One of the first young players to make his debut in the big leagues for the Seattle Mariners at the start of their rebuild was Justin Dunn. He debuted in 2019, and started all 10 games available for him in the Mariners’ six-man rotation in 2020. Last year, he was one of Seattle’s six starters at the beginning of the season; the 2021 season was a season of some marginal improvements for Justin Dunn, but overall one without much success. The Mariners have some choices of what to do with him going forward.
Justin Dunn’s future is in the Mariners’ hands going forward, and it depends on how they plan to deploy him.
Dunn came into Spring Training last year with better stuff than he showed in from 2019-20. His fastball velocity in 2021 was 2.5 mph better than the year before, and his off-speed and breaking pitches were also being thrown with better spin rate. This was a good surprise for the Mariners as they wanted to see him continue to develop as a starting pitcher. However, the biggest problem for Dunn was the walks; he had a 15.3% walk rate last year, which was in the bottom 6% of the league.
In his first start of the year, Dunn walked 8 batters in 4.2 innings, which is something no Major League starting pitcher can do in a game. To go along with this, there was only one game that Dunn started where he walked zero batters, and that was his final outing where he went only two innings. He also only had one start where he walked one batter.
Dunn simply has to stop walking people; if he doesn’t he won’t be able to continue to start at the major league level right. So, the Mariners have a few options with him now.
Option #1 – Put Dunn in the Bullpen
The first option for the Mariners is to give up on Justin Dunn starting and throw him in the bullpen. Seattle could do this with the hope of him getting used to shorter stints, and he could potentially get another uptick in his stuff. Could his fastball jump up to the 94-97 range consistently? That would be an interesting question for the Mariners. He also would be able to ditch some pitches, and could focus on what pitches are best for him.
His fastball was the pitch that got hit the most consistently last year, so if he goes to his curve ball and his slider more, and uses the fastball less, it could benefit him. It all depends on how the Mariners view him going forward. If the Mariners are confident in their ability to coach him up in the bullpen and be more valuable there, then they should do it.
Option #2 – Let Dunn Start in the Minors
This option is predicated on the Mariners front office believing that Justin Dunn still could be a starting pitcher going forward, as they could have a different idea in their minds about a change in his delivery or something else mechanical to eliminate the walks. However, this option can only be viable if he can stop walking so many batters.
In this scenario, the Mariners would let Dunn start the season with the Tacoma Rainiers and be a top rotation piece there. He would be able to start games once a week and not worry too much about the pressure of being up in the big leagues. He could have far fewer eyes on him while focusing on his mechanics and his walk prevention, and could give the Mariners a backup option if someone gets hurt in the rotation early in the season.
Option #3 Trade Him
This option is only viable if the Mariners have given up on Justin Dunn. However, this is probably the least likely scenario because Dunn’s trade value has significantly decreased in the last few years. They would not be able to get anything for him on his own, and he would not be too valuable in a package either. This is the worst case scenario for the Mariners, unless they have to include him in a large trade package for a regular contributor.
The Mariners have a few scenarios on their hands, and I personally believe the best option is putting him in AAA for the beginning of the season. This gives him a chance to stay a starter, and it gives them depth if people get hurt early. The Mariners should not bail on what was once a back-end top 100 prospect, rather, they should let him keep developing as he gets more experience.